April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The Internet abounds with a wealth of information — true and otherwise — about healthcare. So where should you turn to find the latest information about medications or conditions? That was the focus of a recent study from the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering and Department of Political Science.
The team found, among other things, that general social networks such as Twitter or Pinterest were the best places for information on medications such as Viagra or ibuprofen. If, on the other hand, you want information on sleep disorders or depression, you should start with specialized social networks such as WebMD or Drugs.com.
The findings, which will be published in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Biomedical Informatics, have implications for a wide range of stakeholders, such as healthcare providers, and healthcare marketing professionals. Providers would have more knowledge for recommending social network sites to their patients, or for creating forums themselves for particular healthcare conditions or drugs. Marketing professionals would be able to use the information to focus their resources, while researchers of healthcare content in social networks could find the data useful when selecting sources.
The research team included Vagelis Hristidis, an associate professor in the computer science and engineering department at UC Riverside, and his graduate student Matthew T. Wiley; Kevin M. Esterling, a professor of political science at UC Riverside; and Canghong Jin, a former visiting graduate student at UC Riverside currently at Zhejiang University in China. The team studied 10 social networks, charting the following factors for each: were they health focused or general, were they moderated, did they require registration, and were they in the form of question and answer.
They selected Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest as the general social networks. Facebook was excluded because its data is not public. DailyStrength, Drugs.com, DrugLib.com, EverydayHealth.com, MediGuard.org, WebMD and Medications.com were selected as the specialized social networks.
Depending on the date of the site’s creation, data was collected from 2001 to 2012, ending in 2013. The team analyzed the posts in three different ways. The first was to determine if the post was positive, negative or objective. Secondly, they broke the posts into six drug categories: coagulation modifiers, genitourinary tract agents, nutritional products, cardiovascular agents, psychotherapeutic agents and others. Finally, the team searched for mentions of five types of medical concepts: anatomy, physiology, procedures, chemicals and drugs and disorders.
The differences in the content of discussions on the social networks, based on whether there was moderation, registration required, or a question-and-answer format, were taken into consideration.
Key findings of the study include:
• Negative sentiments were twice as likely to be found on health social networks—such as WebMD and drugs.com—than on general social networks—such as Google+ and Twitter.
• They found that the same basic group of drugs were popular across the board on the general social networks, while different drugs were popular on the health sites.
• On health network sites, posts about psychotherapeutic agents, such as Abilify and Cymbalta, are about five times more common. In contrast, posts about genitourinary tract agents, such as Viagra and Cialis, are 16 times more common in general social networks.
• On non-moderated health network sites, they observed an 87 percent increase in discussion of psychotherapeutic agents, while on moderated sites, discussions of gastrointestinal agents, hormones, anti-infectives, and respiratory agents all increased.